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Many in U.S. Want Texting at the Wheel to Be Illegal

The New York Times: Many in U.S. Want Texting at the Wheel to Be Illegal

By MARJORIE CONNELLY
Published: November 1, 2009

Nearly all Americans say sending a text message while driving should be illegal, and about half say texting while behind the wheel should be punished at least as harshly as drunken driving, according to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll.

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“If you’re going to drive, drive; if you want to talk or text, pull over to the side of the road,” Constance Drake, 71, of Toms River, N.J., said in a follow-up interview.

Ninety-seven percent support the prohibition of texting while driving, an unusual level of agreement for any topic. Eighty percent also support a ban on talking on a hand-held cellphone while driving.

Fifty percent said the punishment for texting while driving should be just as severe as for drunken driving.

“Someone who is texting creates just as much of a danger as someone behind the wheel who is inebriated,” said Michael Brooks, 38, from Limerick, Pa.

An additional 2 percent said those who text while driving should be penalized even more rigorously than those who drink and drive.

Jim Deane, 31, from Idyllwild, Calif., disagreed. “It should be illegal because you have to take your eyes off the road, but I don’t think it reaches the same point as drunk driving because the driver is not impaired for the entire time,” he said.

Forty-three percent said motorists who text should not be treated like drunken drivers.

Concerns about distracted driving seem to be growing. Eighty percent said using a hand-held cellphone while driving should be illegal, up from 69 percent in a 2001 ABC News poll. But opinion reverses when the subject is hands-free cellphones.

Seventy percent have no problem with drivers who use a hands-free phone while behind the wheel, a view unchanged from what ABC News found in 2001.

This turnabout appears to be related to the view that hands-free cellphones are safer than hand-held ones. Two-thirds of those surveyed in the recent poll said it was safer to talk and drive using a hands-free cellphone, and almost 9 in 10 of them said the practice should be legal.

Studies have shown that cellphone use by drivers is a serious hazard, and that hands-free phones do not eliminate the risk.

The nationwide telephone poll was conducted Oct. 5-8 with 829 adults and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Complete survey results and methodology are available at nytimes.com/polls.